The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
The Things I Can Never Talk About
You are being heard. -x-
Every year it seems I get caught out with a bout of the Holiday Blues.
After a really fun and non-traditional Thanksgiving with wonderful friends, I headed into December ready to celebrate the holidays my way. Then Bam! I came down with the Holiday Blues.
There will always be things I wish were part of my festive season, like hand-delivering gifts to my family, shopping for small children, and creating the kind of Christmas I had as a child. But it wasn’t theses losses and what-ifs that gave me the blues this year.
Maybe it was the rainy weather that kept me indoors for much of the week. Maybe it was the end of year racing towards me highlighting the things that didn’t get accomplished this year. Or maybe it’s that Christmas doesn’t really feel like something to celebrate anymore.
Finally, I took my own advice, and that of a couple of friends, and dusted myself off. I bought a tree, made plans for Christmas Eve dinner at a favorite restaurant, and wrote and sent my cards. And then I made myself a cup of tea and sliced off a chunk of proper English fruitcake, and I curled up in a chair and wrote in my journal.
I made a list of everything good that happened this year—all the fun things I did (see photo below, for one), the challenges I overcame, the goals I reached this year, the friends I spent time with, the family I visited.
And guess what I discovered? It’s been another great year this year. I have lived my life, perhaps not always to the fullest, but to the best that I was able. And I had a good time doing it.
That, I think, is plenty of reason to celebrate.
“Are you the adult you dreamed of becoming?”
I laughed when I read this question on Facebook. No! Of course I’m not. The adult I dreamed of was an international engineering consultant, living in a large house with a circular driveway, with a fabulous husband and four beautiful children, including one set of twins.
Aside from the fabulous husband, that adult is almost the polar opposite of the adult I am now. I’m a writer, who works from my very small rented beach cottage, and of course, there are no children in my picture. And yet, once I stop to consider my friend’s question, I realize that I’m a lot happier as this adult than I would have been had my expectations been met. I’ve met the person I’d once dreamed of becoming; she wasn’t a very happy person and she definitely had more grey hairs than me.
Half the battle of coming-to-terms with a life without children is letting go of our expectations—and creating new ones. This is never more true than during the holiday season, one of the most difficult times of the year to be childless.
When I think of my expectations of what Christmas should be like as an adult, those four children are always there, gathered around the tree, gathered around the dinner table, and then gathered around me as the day comes to a close. Even when I realized that children wouldn’t be part of my life, I still strived to make Christmas live up to my expectations. Consequently, Christmastime was very sad time for a number of years. I knew there was no way my expectations could be met, and eventually I stopped making an effort to celebrate.
The worst year was when my husband and I found ourselves sitting at home, with no Christmas tree, no plans, no celebration, and we knew we’d allowed our lack of children to take over our lives. We also realized it was time to set new, more realistic expectations.
When I took a step back and looked at what I really wanted for Christmas, not on the surface of gifts, family, and decorations, but on a deeper emotional level, I discovered that my spiritual wish list included love, peacefulness, companionship, and a good dose of silly fun. I needed to explore new ways to get what I really wanted.
It took a couple of false starts to find a new way to celebrate Christmas, but a couple of years ago we nailed it. Mr. Fab and I rented an apartment for three days in a nearby beach town. We celebrated on Christmas Eve with a lovely dinner at an historic hotel with an enormous Christmas tree, roving carolers, and even an outdoor ice rink (in Southern California!). On Christmas Day, instead of sitting at home feeling sad about a pathetic Christmas for two, we went to the zoo, like a couple of big kids, and had a whale of a time. I even got to feed a rhino and have an ice cream. We both agreed it was the best Christmas we’ve had for a long time, plus there were no tantrums or mountains of dirty dishes to deal with.
It’s hard to let go of our expectations, especially when they’re often so deeply engrained, but if you’re struggling to find your holiday cheer this year, I encourage you to look beneath the obvious losses and examine what’s really missing for you. Even if you can’t meet your tangible expectations of what the holidays should be, you might be surprised to find you can satisfy your true needs in unconventional—and unexpected—ways.
By Lisa Manterfield
It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S. this week. For many of you, that’s going to mean spending a long day, perhaps a long weekend, with people who care about you, but perhaps don’t really understand what you’ve been through or what you’re going through still. It can make for a lot of unintentionally hurtful comments, strained emotions, and reignited grief.
The news this year has been unbearable too. Fires, hurricanes, mass shootings, and political shenanigans. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been completely worn out by all that’s going on in the world.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been hibernating from the news and social media, needing an information detox. As a result, I’m sleeping more restfully, spending more enjoyable time with Mr. Fab, and my brain is starting to function with clarity again. In sitting down to write this post, I also realize that I haven’t had any of the weird headaches I’ve been experiencing for the previous month or so.
I’m aware that this seems like I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I prefer to call it self-care, putting my own needs first for a while, so that I can regain enough mental strength to keep moving forward.
I also believe that self-care is one of the most important tools for making it through the upcoming holiday season, especially if your grief is still raw. But even if you’ve been making progress, the holidays can be a breeding ground for tactless comments, reminders of loss, and emotional triggers galore!
So, here are a few suggestions that have helped me navigate the holidays over the years:
Say no to difficult events. If you know a gathering will be problematic, make an excuse and don’t go. You may have some guilt about it, but that will pass, and you’ll end up much better off emotionally than if you go and end up upset. If you’re in the early stages of grief, take a year off from the holidays. Seriously. The holidays will be back next year, and they’ll get progressively easier to deal with.
Have an escape plan. If you do go to a gathering that might be difficult, have an escape plan. That might be as simple as borrowing the host’s dog and going for a long walk or volunteering to be the person to run to the store for last-minute ingredients. A little time alone is like a mini detox, so you can gather yourself together before facing people again.
Use this community. I promise you, you won’t be the only person looking for an understanding ear over the holidays. Use the community and connect with someone who know what you’re going through and can offer support and encouragement.
Plan some post-celebration self-care. Know in advance how you’ll take care of yourself after the event. Go home and take a long, quiet bath, or a long walk, or plan to do something with someone whose time you enjoy. If you can, schedule a post-Thanksgiving detox day.
If you need more ideas for getting through the holidays, we have several resources available. There’s an entire chapter on navigating the holidays in both Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen and Life Without Baby Workbook 3: Dealing With the Day-to-Day Challenges, and a book full of inspiration and tips in Life Without Baby Holiday Companion. Finally, here’s the link to the community forums, where you’ll already find several holiday and family-related threads going.
Please take advantage of these resources and this community and make sure you have a happy Thanksgiving. –x-
This topic came up on the community forums a while ago and I thought it was a great topic to explore here on Whiny Wednesday.
Not being treated like a “real” adult because you’re not a parent.
I’ve certainly experienced this myself and talked to friends who say they’re still treated like a kid because they don’t have children of their own.
How about you?
With Thanksgiving just around the corner here in the U.S., and seasonal goods already moving off the shelves, the holiday season is well underway. I’ve been hearing holiday music in stores for weeks, and know of people who’ve had their Christmas trees up since the beginning of November!
For many of you, the festive season might not be such a fun time. Traditionally, whichever holidays you celebrate, they include family gatherings, which might mean facing insensitive relatives and prying questions about children. It can be one of the most difficult times of the year, with social gatherings, kid-oriented activities, and constant reminders of the many ways we don’t get to celebrate the holidays.
I love that this community includes new readers and seasoned pros, so let’s help one another out this year by sharing ideas on getting through the season with our hearts intact.
What are some of the issues you know you’ll face this holiday season? What events are you dreading? What’s going to be hardest for you?
And perhaps most important of all, how to do plan to get through the season with minimum emotional damage?
If you’re looking for some guidance from those who’ve walked this path before you, make sure to add yourself to your gift shopping list this year. Here are some books written by members of our community. Please consider supporting their work, so that they can continue supporting all of us.
Lesley Pyne’s Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life shares real-world experiences of infertility survivors alongside Lesley’s gentle guidance. Lesley is a role model for redefining yourself after infertility and finding peace with a childless life.
In Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children, Jody Day takes you by the hand and leads you through her process of facing grief, letting go of lost dreams, and rebuilding a new kind of life.
Jessica Hepburn has two books on offer. Her first, The Pursuit of Motherhood tells her own heartbreaking story of her quest to become a mother. In 21 Miles: Swimming in Search of the Meaning of Motherhood, Jessica tells the “next chapter” of her story, her quest to find meaning in her own life and shares inspiring conversations about motherhood with some female powerhouses.
And I’d be remiss if I din’t include my own books on this list: Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen, and Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a compilation of stories and advice to get you through the holidays, written together with Kathleen Guthrie Woods.
We’d have a bonfire in the backyard, and my dad would bring home a box of fireworks to set off and a couple of packets of sparklers. We’d have baked potatoes and roast chestnuts, and my mum would make parkin and gooey, delicious bonfire toffee. It was an evening spent outdoors, clustered around the fire. It was about friends and food and a little bit of danger.
It’s one of the many things I miss about my homeland, and it’s one of the traditions I would have enjoyed sharing with my children. And that’s the topic for this week’s Whiny Wednesday:
Traditions you won’t get to share with your children
Happy Bonfire Night and happy whining.
Jane P reminded of this article by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman that I posted some time ago, one I think is worth re-running from time-to-time. It’s a good reminder about how not to say the wrong thing to someone in crisis. I wish it was mandatory reading for everyone, and I especially wish it came with a note explaining that it applies when talking to infertiles and the childless-not-by-choice.
The gist of their Ring Theory is that the person in crisis is at the center of the ring and those next closest to the person occupy subsequent rings. In the case of someone coming to terms with not having children, she would be at the center, her spouse or partner on the next ring, perhaps closest family and friends on the next, and more distant family, coworkers, and acquaintances beyond that.
The rule is that that if people have something mean or insensitive or opinionated to say, they say it to someone on a bigger ring. When speaking to someone on a smaller ring, they can only listen or—if they must say something—offer help, support, or comfort. No advice, no miracle stories, no blame or shame. No offering of their kids, no suggestions to adopt. “I’m sorry” is all that needs to be said. If they want to dump, dump outwards, not inwards.
I wish people would understand that someone who has just acknowledged she won’t ever have children is in crisis, and what she needs more than judgment and unhelpful help is for people to say to the right thing.
This week we turn to spotlight on the men in our lives and discuss the topic of:
Spouses or partners who aren’t dealing or healing
If you have one of these, we’d like to hear to about it.
As I continue on my own journey of healing, I find it hard sometimes to write about the issues that used to cause me such discomfort. It’s amazing how the human brain can dull past pain. So I appreciate when readers contact me with ideas for topics they’d like to see discussed.
Recently, one reader sent me this question about envy within families:
“I see a lot of people post about the joy of having nieces and nephews. Well, my brother’s wife is pregnant and I’m feeling completely pushed of out the picture. It may be because I reacted with shock and sadness over their first pregnancy. But I did write a lengthy, heartfelt apology and when that resulted in a miscarriage, my husband and I were the first to make it to the hospital and we stayed 11 hours with them. Now, my sister-in-law is being really removed from me.
I really want to have the connection with my niece or nephew, but I’m afraid I won’t. And honestly, I’m envious.
I wonder if others have similar experiences?”
A new baby in the family is a really difficult situation to navigate. There’s such a mixed bag of emotions involved. You’re trying to deal with your own grief, while also feeling alone because others don’t understand what you’re going through. Then a cause for celebration gets thrown in on top of that and, as much as you know you’re supposed to be happy for the new parents, all you can feel is resentment and envy that it’s not you. So, guilt and shame for being a bad sport get piled on top of that.
I also know that other people don’t know how to handle us when they have good news. I recall a friend being extremely uncomfortable about telling me she was pregnant. She dealt with it by sitting down, explaining that she knew this was difficult for me, and asking me how much or how little I wanted to know or be involved. I really appreciated her being open and it allowed me to be honest with her about how I felt. I’ve also had the experience of a friend saying, “Guess what?!” and then launching into every detail of how she found out and how it feels to be pregnant, while I sat and squirmed. Often people don’t know what to say or how best to handle us “volatile” folks, so they pull away and say nothing.
How about you? Have you experienced envy over new babies in the family? How have you dealt with it? Have you had a good experience with a friend or family member handling their news with aplomb?
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